For all the Game of Thrones fans, winter is coming! Here at Journey Acres it definitely feels like it’s here. Sure, it’s technically still autumn, but to me, and the animals, it’s winter. Ugh. I was not looking forward to this.
I was not looking forward to leaky windows and a freezing cold bedroom. I was not looking forward to having a boot/shoe collection by the kitchen door. I was not looking forward to going to the barn at 7:15 in the morning, every morning, even when the snow is blowing sideways. I was not looking forward to frozen water dishes. I was not looking forward to feeling bad for the chickens and the cats in the unheated barn. I was not looking forward to not having a garage to park my truck in. I was not looking forward to plowing the driveway (all though, really, that is Torran’s job I just shovel the sidewalks and an area in the grass for the dogs). I was not looking forward to being stuck in the house all winter. I was not looking forward to winter. At. All.
Then I saw the first snowfall in the early morning light. I listened to the stillness. I saw a pristine white landscape and felt the calmness of the snow. It filled me with such a serene and joyful feeling that I know we’ll be ok. I know regardless of the leaky windows, the trips to the barn, and the frozen water dishes, we will survive the cold and learn to appreciate the beauty that is winter.
We took the plunge and got our first farm animals – chickens!
I didn’t grow up with chickens (well, we had one chicken given to us as a joke because my mother grew up with chickens and hates them) but the Hanauska farm across the street had chickens and I remember going into the coop when they had baby chicks – they were so cute! That was the extent of my chicken experience until earlier this year when we went to the Racine County Fair and I was able to pet one and see all the different kinds. I started warming up to the idea, but I was still concerned with the amount of work they might be – especially in the winter. Who wants to go out to the barn in the middle of January when it’s five below out?!?
Torran was adamant and did all the research and so I finally caved and found a “chicken lady” right up the road from us. Her name is Raegan and she raises hundreds, sometimes over a thousand, chickens each year to sell. Check out her blog at www.comefarmwithme.comand their farm’s website www.corner40farms.com. She has an egg wagon she puts out everyday and the eggs are wonderful – much better than store-bought eggs!
We went to pick up the chickens and first we had to catch them. Remember, I had never caught a chicken, much less held one. I was scared (I know, I’m a little chicken myself, ha!). She was so kind and told me it doesn’t hurt if they peck at you, how to grab them, and how to hold them. After holding the first one I was hooked. I didn’t catch any of them – Torran did all that work with a fish net (I think that’s what it was) while I loaded them into a dog carrier Raegan lent us. I still feel bad that I didn’t wash out the carrier when I returned it – sorry Raegan!!
They are Red Star chickens. Red Stars can come from different red chicken breeds for the hen but are crossed with a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster (read more about them at http://comefarmwithme.com/1200-chicks/).They are winter hardy and so they should be just fine in the barn during the winter.
We had the coop, the roost, and an outside run so all we had to do was pick up a feeder, water bucket and feed. We did all this the day before we got them so we were ready. We released them into the coop and they just kind of sat there. I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe for them to frolic around and be excited for their new home. Nope, just blank, scared stares and they all huddled in the corner. Bummer! So we left them alone.
Over the next week or so they got used to us and were enjoying being outside in their run. I went out one afternoon and could only find five of the seven. Turns out something ate one and one was hiding in some big weeds; the others were inside. Time to get a roof over the run!
We cobbled together some chicken wire and now they are safe from predators. I felt bad their run was now smaller so I went to work to spiffy up their roost. I added a cabbage on a string (I read this would be a good “toy” for them). I also had seen chicken swings on the internet so I fashioned one out of a piece of wood and some twine. They haven’t used it yet, but I am hopeful one day I will go out to visit and one will be swinging away!
Next spring I want to paint the coop, add some chicken decor, and give them a mirror to look into (I’ve read they like to look at themselves – vain little creatures). We also need to extend the roof over the run so next spring will be busy! In the meantime, I will be looking for more “toys” for the chickens…and no, I will not be crocheting them any little sweaters for the winter…unless I get extremely bored…
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Moving into a new house is always an exciting time (I can’t even count all the times I have moved anymore). Putting things away that have been in boxes for years, decorating, learning the microwave CAN run without turning off lights…but one of the best things, I think, is meeting new neighbors. Our farm is across the street from Lester’s Bison Farmand it is so exciting to see the bison right across the road. I love seeing them peacefully grazing without a care in the world, hearing their deep, breathy grunts, and sometimes running! The first time I saw them running in circles I thought we were going to have an earthquake or something – it was such a strange thing to see! Turns out this is quite normal for bison.
Lester’s Bison Farm is such a great asset to have right across the street. He has a store right on the farm so you can see the bison and then go buy some meat to cook up at home. Bison meat is healthier than regular beef because it’s leaner. Ron’s bison are never treated with hormones or antibiotics and only eat what is growing in the pastures – except the occasional treat of pumpkins or apple mash. Make sure to try the bison sticks (as I call them), they make a great snack – especially with cheese! He also stocks beef, pork, lamb, elk, poultry, and seafood. Other products include chips and salsas, jams and jellies, pickled goods, eggs, and butter. Don’t forget to check out the products made from the hair and undercoat of the bison – someday I will buy a pair of bison wool socks to keep my eternally-almost-frostbitten-cold-as-ice feet nice and toasty warm!
Take a drive, meet Ron, his grandson Charlie (who helps run the store) and don’t forget to pet the dogs who will greet you with excitement. You will not be disappointed!
I’ve met two other neighbors and everyone has been so warm and welcoming that I truly feel we not only chose a great house and land, we inherited great neighbors as well and that is what makes the journey so worthwhile; the people you meet along the way.
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I grew up with a father that loved to mow the lawn. He would spend hours each Saturday on the riding mower, then with the push mower and then finish up with the weedwacker. I vaguely remember learning to drive the riding lawn mower – it was exciting! I could drive something! I would then volunteer to mow the lawn and listen to tapes my dad made of 101.5, the local classic rock radio station. I took pride in the straight (ok, sometimes not so straight) lines and how nice the lawn looked after.
Fast forward to 2007, I can’t remember. I purchased a push mower for Torran as a wedding gift (I know, I know, weird, but we needed one.) I think he used it exactly one time while we lived in Menasha (don’t take this the wrong way, Torran doesn’t mind yard work, he just has a wife who likes it more). The neighbors saw him use it that time and were astonished! Torran mowed the lawn!!! Oh my God! Is the world coming to an end?! They were so used to me out there mowing and then using the weedwacker and pulling weeds – doing what I was taught at an early age – to take pride in your home. It got to a point where one neighbor and I would “compete” to mow the lawn and whoever did it first would yell at the other, “mow your lawn will ya? It looks like crap!” Ironically this neighbor had THE BEST YARD on the block. It was perfect, a thing of beauty. (Gordy and Linda you can come help me with our current lawn anytime!)
In 2012 we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and rented a house with the steepest front yard ever. It was a larger lawn than we had in Menasha, but I continued to mow even though I hated it because of the darn hill. Torran took pity on me and helped a couple of times. I wanted to weed and take care of the lawn, but it wasn’t my house and so why bother? Then we bought a house in Batavia, Ohio and I was so excited to get back to what I loved, working in the yard and making it my own. I looked forward to planting and landscaping and just making the yard as beautiful as the one we had in Menasha. I planted exactly two plants there and then we started construction on the largest deck ever in the backyard. This meant I couldn’t do anything until the deck was done. Meanwhile, we were both working full-time and hired a company to come mow the lawn for us. That was great, but I missed working in the yard. True to us, when the deck was finished, we chose to sell and move back to Wisconsin. (If you know us you know about the four-year long bathroom remodel and the running joke, “watch us finish and have to sell the house.” Sure enough, that happened.)
We moved in 2014 back to Wisconsin to another rental house that had great landscaping, but again, it wasn’t my house and why should I work on it when I wouldn’t get to enjoy it the next year? Finally, finally, we bought our farm. Five glorious acres! All the yard I could want; I could do anything! So why was I so scared?
I had come full circle, back to what I was raised on. I could mow and mow and mow until my heart was content. Then I used the riding mower that came with the house. I swear a turtle could push mow a lawn faster! What in the world was I going to do?! It took a WHOLE DAY just to mow with the riding mower. SIX TO SEVEN HOURS! Then we had areas that should be done with a push mower (which we had sold back in Ohio) and not to mention all the weedwacking, edging and regular weeding that should be done weekly. I was in lawn hell. I had gotten what I wanted and now I dreaded it. However, I endured and used the slower-than-a-turtle lawnmower all while dreaming of a lawn mower with a jet engine. Torran is a jet mechanic, surely he could rig something up, right? (He just laughed.)
One day while mowing the backyard right by the house I noticed the paths I mowed were not even. I thought the deck or the blades were not even and thought nothing of it. Then Torran came outside and noticed the horrible, horrible, horrible mowing job and told me I was mowing with a completely flat tire. No wonder the lawn was crooked! Buying a new tire was out of the question so we bought an inner-tube and Torran fought with the wheel to get it put on. I don’t think I finished mowing that day – I didn’t want to break the mower anymore than I had. Stupid lawn.
A few weeks later we went to an agricultural service store to look at a trimmer Torran wanted. They were also a John Deere dealer. I said, let’s just test drive a commercial zero turn mower for fun. So we did. It was like driving a mower with a hundred million turtles on speed! I NEEDED this mower! We debated, we went over the budget, we went back and forth, we test drove it again. WE BOUGHT IT! I was so, so, so, so excited to have it delivered and to start mowing. I was curious to see just how fast it would go and how much time it would take to mow the five acres. THREE, JUST THREE, HOURS!!! I was in lawn mowing heaven! We bought a sun shade to install and I am dreaming of getting a striper kit, or a mulching blade, or a bagger; the list goes on and on. I could take pride in the lawn again (watch out Gordy)!
Now that we have a great mower, it is time to focus on the weeds. Oh the weeds! We have some great landscaping but it got away from me this summer and so next year I will be focusing on getting the flower beds in order. A friend (you know who you are Carrie A.) told me to get a flamethrower to burn the weeds, but I think that is a little extreme – after all I get a little too rambunctious at times and might accidentally set the house on fire! Perhaps I will start with a little creme brûlée torch…but that is a journey for another day…
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The day we moved in was busy, stressful, and rainy. I was scared of moving into such a big old house; would the microwave work without having to turn off any lights? Would we be able to afford to heat the place? How would I survive with no close neighbors and no garage? How would I clean darn place? How much work were we getting ourselves into? To help relieve some stress, and to get me out of the house during the chaos, my sister and I went into the barn to look around. As she was looking into the chicken coop she spotted a kitten!
We knew we had barn cats; the friendly one was named Momma and the other two were a tiger striped one and a black and white one with no tail. No problem we thought, just feed them and they will take care of any unlucky mice. We didn’t plan on SEVEN kittens. They were so tiny and cute and fluffy we couldn’t just leave them. So my sister and I put food and a cardboard box in the coop hoping they would be comfortable.
Fast forward a couple weeks…I was in the barn feeding Momma and the tiger striped one (the black and white one had since disappeared) and I heard something crying. Figuring it was a kitten I went to find it. I looked in the haymow, I looked in the chicken coop, I looked at ceilings and trim. I figured it was coming from the wall in the chicken coop. I went to get my husband and we tried to find it. I was almost frantic – the poor thing was crying and was probably terrified and hungry. We thought maybe it was stuck up between the floor of the haymow and the ceiling of the barn so we tore out some of the ceiling. No kitten. Next we tore out some outside wood up under the eave thinking it was perhaps in there. Nope. We checked the haymow again and couldn’t find it. Finally, to our horror, we realized it was IN THE WALL! Crap. Crap. Double crap. While we were standing there trying to figure out how to get it out we heard what we thought were it’s last, sad, scared little meows. How heartbreaking! I started crying as Torran ushered me out of the barn. I know life can be cruel at times and barn cats sometimes meet untimely deaths, but to be faced with the first one so soon after moving in was horrible. I felt like a failure; I felt I should have done something to prevent this; I felt like a murderer.
Torran went to work and I went on about my day. It was sad, but this is the life we chose and I had to be a big girl and deal with the consequences. I did what I think any girl would do – I went and got a mani/pedi to take my mind off it. It didn’t help. I felt guilty but what could I do? Torran came home from work and he said something had told him to bring a chisel home. So he had.
We went into the barn and we heard the poor kitten crying! It hadn’t died! It was still alive! We were determined to save it! Torran started chiseling holes in the wall. He was stumped after about the sixth hole because he could hear it but couldn’t get to it. Finally, he realized the cinderblocks had three chambers in them instead of the normal two. After knocking out the NINTH hole, he could finally feel the little kitten!
He was in the hole vertically with his head at the top (thanks goodness he wasn’t upside down). After a little pulling and nudging and lots of “be carefuls” from me, he was free! I quickly cuddled him to my chest and we took him outside to look him over.
He looked fine, but we were concerned about his hearing from all the banging on the wall. He apparently didn’t care because he bit me! After a few pictures and a moment of “should we really save his life and make him an inside cat?” (NO) we took him back to the barn and set him by Momma.
Off he ran. That was the last time we ever saw him. Hopefully he found another barn to live in and is enjoying his life. Meanwhile, we were left with nine holes in the wall we had to fill before we could get chickens…but that is another journey for another day!
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Hello everyone! Thank you for joining us on our journey – and what a journey it has been! A little background…my husband Torran and I bought this little five acre farm and moved in on May 30, 2015 – in the rain. Maybe that was a warning, but hey, rain on a wedding day is supposed to be good luck, right? Right?!?! Although we have only been here five months we have learned a lot. How to rescue a kitten stuck in the cinder block barn wall; how to survive the creepy basement in a thunderstorm while the power is out; how to live without (*gasp*) central air; how to mow the lawn in under seven hours; how to deal with mice in the house…the list goes on and on. It seems like every week we are learning something new and so this is a way for us to share those experiences with everyone. Some will be good, some will be bad – but remember, life lessons come from the journey, not the destination. Welcome to our journey!